Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Ravilious on Film: Dangerous Work at Low Tide

Here's the third part of the film shot at Dulwich Picture Gallery by the splendid Acap Media. Great close-ups of several lovely paintings from the last room of the Ravilious exhibition: Darkness and Light.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Summer at the RWA, feat. James Ravilious

James Ravilious, Archie Parkhouse & his dog Sally, copyright Beaford Arts
Exhibition launches at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol are always fun, partly because the building is so impressive and the staff so cheerful, but mostly because the work on display is so varied. This time around there are three exhibitions, linked by a broad theme but otherwise remarkably diverse.

This being Bristol's year of being European Green Capital the three exhibitions are united by the artists' shared interest in nature and our relationship with the natural world.

In the main room, with its wonderful high ceiling and natural light, are gigantic works on paper by Peter Randall-Page RWA and (as of last week) RA, across which flow great tributaries, or family trees, or neural pathways in brown or black ink. Pattern and order on the one hand, freedom on the other, combining to give an impression of organic systems.

One work forms a screen, behind which lurk other, rather different forms. Actually some of these are beautiful, while others recall Surrealist fantasies of creatures alarmingly combined. It would really spoil the surprise if I described them. Suffice to say, Kate MccGwire must spend an awful lot of time collecting feathers, while the installation of her gorgeous-but-monstrous creations is surely a logistical nightmare.

James Ravilious, John Bennett, traveller, copyright Beaford Arts
In a way the world of James Ravilious is equally strange. No fantasy here, mind you. His photographs, taken in the last quarter of the last century, represent real places and real people, all (as far as I remember) in rural North Devon. The strangeness is found partly in the subject matter, a hands-on country life far removed from modern urban existence, and partly in the photography itself.

Although he chose photography over drawing or painting, James shared important qualities with his father Eric (who died, it should be noted, when he was only three), such as clarity of focus, a powerful sense of structure and a willingness to work with the sun in his eyes. Here and there one can see the influence of Edwin Smith, whom James got to know through Peggy Angus, but most of the work is unmistakeably, charismatically his.

One of Eric's less well known skills lay in making friends with people - the owners of greenhouses or abandoned lighthouses, patrons, etc - and in his decades taking photographs for the Beaford Archive James demonstrated an even greater sociability. Rather than snap people anonymously he got to know them, often very well, so that they trusted him and were themselves in front of his camera. Go and have a look, and if you know anyone who is studying photography tell them they HAVE to go.

Laura Knight, Spring, 1916-20, Tate
Finally, through the heavy door and into the climate-controlled rooms, where paintings from (or loosely associated with) the Newlyn School are on display. Instead of fishing boats and bays here are fields, farms and working people, the same kind of people portrayed by James Ravilious but romanticised somewhat. The colours throughout are fresh, the mood generally light, with the freshest, lightest painting of all being Laura Knight's effervescent 'Spring'.


Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Eric Ravilious: The Westbury Horse - on film!

Here's a short video of me discussing Ravilious on the day the Dulwich exhibition opened. If you feel I'm not talking complete rubbish please come along to one of the talks I'm giving over the next month, and say hello! - details in the sidebar...

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Wanted: Artist's Face for £20 Note

Laura Knight with model, self-portrait, 1913, copyright artist's estate
So the Bank of England is looking for a new face for its £20 note, the face of a visual artist. We the public are being asked to make suggestions, a handful of which will eventually be presented to a committee including a trio of experts - among them Andrew Graham-Dixon - for a final decision. Given that the artist concerned has to be dead to qualify, we can't nominate Tracy Emin, Banksy or Grayson Perry. So who does that leave? Which no-longer-living artists still matter to people at large? Turner? Constable? Ravilious???

Barbara Hepworth, photo copyright Peter Keen, 1950s, NPG
These are all men, obviously, and here we have the first potential source of conflict. Today we are used to men and women sharing the white cube of the contemporary art space, but this relative equality is a recent phenomenon. Before Laura Knight's generation successful women artists were few and far between, and even during the 20th century there were not many household names. Come to think of it, Dame Laura would be a good choice, not a modern like Barbara Hepworth but a painter whose work has given pleasure to many.

I can't see AGD plumping for anyone from the last century. His History of British Art got through the interwar years in just a couple of pages. But Modern British is in the ascendant, and the auction houses would love to see Hepworth's face printed on the piles of money the publicity would generate. She has a good face for a banknote, a serious face with plenty of character. Then again, choosing Lucien Freud might give the Queen an opportunity for revenge; large HM on one side, tiny Lucien on the other...

JMW Turner, self-portrait, Tate
Is it unusual for a banknote to have potential as a marketing tool? I don't think the current incumbent of the £20 note, Adam Smith, makes anyone much money, does he? But an artist's image would surely do wonders for sales, especially if it's someone whose reputation could use a bit of a boost. Sir So'n'so Somebody, as featured on the new £20 note. Will there be lobbying by Interested Parties? What about artist in the Bank's own collection? It could all get rather murky.

Tim Spall as Turner, in Mr Turner, 2014
No doubt the bookies' money will be on one of the big names from the glory days of yore. Turner must be the front-runner, although people might not recognise him unless Timothy Spall reprises his movie role for the occasion. But there is a self-portrait in the Tate which would be perfect; the note could be launched at TB, alongside the mother of all Turner exhibitions. As well as the actual notes (Gift aided for the occasion?) we could buy postcards of the notes, not to mention teatowels, pencil cases and what have you.

Thomas Gainsborough, self-portrait, NPG
Gainsborough would make a rather more elegant subject. Although he hasn't been portrayed on the big screen lately, he would be no more obscure than Sir John Houblon, the 17th century banker who presently adorns £50 notes. His self-portraits are suitably dignified, whereas Turner may be a bit wild for a banknote. Stubbs is another option, perhaps represented by one of his horses. Hogarth is a contender too. And William Morris, though I'm not sure how he felt about the banking system. And Rossetti...

But the winner will no doubt be Turner, which is a shame. It would be fun to have the kids asking, 'Dad, lend us a Grayson.'